National Distinguished Principal® (NDP) Program

NAESP’s National Distinguished Principal® (NDP) program honors outstanding elementary and middle-level principals who ensure that America’s children acquire a sound foundation for lifelong learning and achievement. Each year, NAESP congratulates principals from across the nation, in both public and private schools, and overseas, for their exemplary achievements.

Meet the 2023 NDPs

This year we recognize 37 NDPs: 35 public school principals – 32 elementary and 3 middle-level – and two representing the Department of State Overseas Schools.

Meet the NDPs


The class of 2022 celebrates 41 principals:


The class of 2021 celebrates 40 principals:


The class of 2020 celebrates 50 principals:


The class of 2019 celebrates 61 principals:


The class of 2018 celebrates 62 principals:


The class of 2017 celebrates 62 principals:


The class of 2016 celebrates 58 principals:

Program Background

The NDP program was established in 1984 to recognize elementary and middle-level principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families, and staffs in their learning communities. The program was based on three fundamental ideas:

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Children’s attitudes towards learning and their perceptions of themselves as lifelong learners are established in the beginning school years.
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The scope and quality of children’s educational experiences are determined primarily by the school principal, who establishes, through the important work of teachers and the support of caring parents, the character of a particular school’s program.
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The dedication and enthusiasm of the outstanding principals who guide children’s early education experiences should be acknowledged to both show appreciation for their work as well as to allow them to serve as models for others in the field.

Selection & Criteria

Each year, NAESP recognizes Pre-K through grade 8 principals from across the nation, as well as principals in U.S. private schools and those from the United States Departments of Defense Office of Educational Activity and the United States Department of State Office of Overseas Schools. Public school elementary and middle-level principals are nominated by peers in their state, and final selections are made by committees appointed by each of NAESP’s state affiliate offices. Honorees from private schools and overseas schools are selected by special committees.

Criteria established by NAESP requires that the individual:

Must have been a member of NAESP for at least one year at the time of nomination and maintain membership through the conclusion of the NAESP Award Ceremony.

Is a practicing principal with at least five years of experience in the principalship.

Plans to continue as a practicing principal.

Must demonstrate evidence of outstanding contributions to the community and to the education profession.

Review the NDP Program Information & Criteria packet or contact Nikki Sparks for more information.